Rowe supported arts, education

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Oliver Reagan Rowe Arts Building honors one of UNC Charlotte’s founding fathers. Completed in 1971, the 75,000-square-foot facility was constructed to house the-then departments of Performing and Visual Arts. The building’s focal point is an eight-sided theatre that seats 350. It also includes a recital hall, classrooms, offices, practice rooms and a large lobby-gallery.

Rowe was born Dec. 12, 1902, in Newport, Tenn. He and his wife Maria would become avid supporters of the Charlotte arts community and UNC Charlotte. Rowe’s family moved to Charlotte when he was a child. After graduating from Central High School, Rowe attended UNC-Chapel Hill, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He returned to Charlotte and began work with the R.H. Bouligny engineering firm. He eventually became president of R.H. Bouligny Inc., Powell Manufacturing Co. and Powell Agri-Systems Ltd.

In the 1950s, Rowe supported consolidation of city and county schools, which won him the Charlotte News “Man of the Year Award” in 1958. That same year, Gov. Luther Hodges appointed Rowe to the first Board of Trustees for the Charlotte Community College System.  He chaired the board’s finance committee, and he was instrumental in soliciting the largest single gift to the-then Charlotte College Foundation (now the Foundation of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte).

Between 1961 and 1963, Rowe made numerous speeches championing the cause of higher education for the Charlotte region.  In 1964, the Charlotte Civitan Club presented its Distinguished Citizenship Award in recognition of Rowe’s efforts on behalf of the University.

During the rest of the 1960s, Rowe continued to find new causes for his leadership. A long-time music lover, Rowe began to support the opera and symphony. Eventually, he was elected president of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Society, and in 1973, he established, nurtured and financially supported the “Rowe String Quartet” at UNC Charlotte.

In 1987, Rowe was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. The citation reads in part that “Oliver Reagan Rowe Sr. was a founding father of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He helped to dream the dream and to make it come true … With his vision, he painted a picture of a major state university when others around him saw only the two-year college then existing.”

Atkins Library Special Collections contributed to this article.